Wisconsin opens Big Ten play with a physical home test against Iowa

Badger Nation's Front Seven ranks the top seven players based on performance, expectations and need for this week's game against Iowa at Camp Randall Stadium.

If it has seem like it has been a while since Iowa visited Camp Randall, you aren’t the only one.

After playing the last three games in the series in Iowa City, all three wins for the Badgers, Wisconsin hosts Iowa for the first time since 2009 in both team’s Big Ten conference opener.

Center Dan Voltz said after the Hawaii game that he wanted to show that Wisconsin hasn’t lost its edge physically on the offensive line, especially knowing that Iowa was next. Wisconsin was clearly the more physical team on Saturday night in wearing down Hawaii’s defense. That physicality will once again be required as the Badgers won’t have as easy of a job wearing down Iowa in the trenches.

The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a win over Iowa.

Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses

1, Joe Schobert OLB (2): One of the most productive linebackers in college football this season, Schobert has registered at least a sack and a tackle for loss in each of Wisconsin’s first four games. Schobert’s 9.5 tackles for loss is tied for first in the NCAA and his six sacks are fourth nationally. Schobert’s ability to find his way into opposing team’s backfields has been impressive and it will have to continue against Iowa, as C.J. Beathard has been sacked five times through four games. Beathard is the conference’s most efficient quarterback and averages 240.5 yards a game, which ranks third in the Big Ten. Against North Texas, Beathard passed for a season-high 278 yards and completed 85.7 percent of his throws. To prevent a repeat, it will be vital for Schobert to disrupt the rhythm of a quarterback completing 68.1 percent of his passes.

2, Joel Stave QB (1): Stave’s three consecutive 200-yard passing games was snapped by Hawaii and had trouble at times getting on the same page with his receiving corps. His receivers also let him down with some dropped passes. Those are two things UW will need to correct against an Iowa defense allowing 210.8 yards a game through the air. One of Stave’s biggest strengths have been his ability to distribute the football to a number if his receivers and tailbacks, forcing defenses to spread its coverages. He also has committed no turnovers the last two weeks, huge considering Iowa has registered five interceptions on the season. In particular Stave will have to know where Desmond King is on the field, as he leads Iowa with three interceptions.

With the increase in competition, it’ll be interested to see if Stave is still dominate at the end of the first half. In the final 3:30 of the first half at home this season, Stave is 15-for-18 for 236 yards and two touchdowns, with Wisconsin scoring 24 total points on those drives. If Wisconsin needs a play to keep the drive alive in the final minutes, Stave will be counted on to make it happen.   

3, Michael Caputo S (5): In last year’s 26-24 UW win over Iowa, Caputo led the team in tackles (11), not to mention forcing and recovering a fumble. While he has yet to hit double digits in tackles, he made his presence felt against Hawaii was in pass coverage with four pass break ups. As good as Iowa’s passing game has been, having four players with at least 10 receptions and more than 100 receiving yards, Caputo will be key as an extra outside linebackers in slowing a running game averaging 196.2 yards. It will be difficult for Wisconsin’s secondary to take away all of Beathard’s options but Caputo’s performance will be important to UW continuing to limit the big plays this season.

4, Tyler Marz LT (NR): Marz will be tested against an Iowa defensive line that has seniors Nate Meier (five sacks) or Drew Ott (three sacks) causing havoc thus far. Marz will have to be smart on how he prepares for his matchup and utilize his size and strength to win his fair share in the trenches to open up running lanes and give Stave time to pass. Iowa only allows 84 rushing yards a contest and it was clear from UW’s 16-play drive to open the Hawaii game that UW wants to establish the physical ground game early. Winning the line of scrimmage is critical for Wisconsin to win this game.

5, Taiwan Deal RB (NR): Seeing marked improvement in each week he plays, Deal’s improvement took a huge leap in his first career start when he finished with 147 rushing yards – breaking the century mark by halftime – and scoring twice. Deal has started to show more patience running the football and his power running style makes him a challenge for defenses. Both of those traits will be tested against Iowa, UW’s biggest defensive test since the opener. Deal’s style should could give him a better chance of finding success against Iowa’s physical defense and having the possibility of creating a positive run on his own. But when Wisconsin gets into third and short, it will be critical that Deal keep drives moving to help keep the Wisconsin defense fresh.

6, Chris Orr MLB (NR): Orr finished his first career start with four tackles and it now second on the team with 24 tackles. Four games into his college career, Orr has showed to be valuable in pass coverage … even though he was responsible for a 51-yard pass play last week. Orr will likely see a bulk of his work come from Iowa’s run game, as Iowa relies on tailback Jordan Canzeri to pick up the tough yards. Orr will need to be able to find ways to clog the middle and make sure Canzeri – who has eight touchdowns and is averaging five yards a carry - doesn’t have any success in the middle of the field. In his limited time on the field, Orr has shown to be proficient in short-yardage situations and bringing down players at the point of contact. If he does that Saturday, considered that an edge for Wisconsin.

7, Alex Erickson WR (NR): Despite defenses knowing plenty of passes are going to come his way, Erickson continues to be a huge part of the passing game, Against Hawaii, seven of Stave’s first 12 pass attempts were directed to Erickson, causing Erickson to haul in five catches before another player recorded a reception. The timing between Erickson and Stave will be tested by King at cornerback. Iowa’s secondary is giving up 11.5 yards per reception so it will be likely that Erickson will primarily run routes that get him the football quickly in his hands as he tries to pick up a first down. Four of Erickson’s receptions went for first downs against Hawaii.

Others to Note:

Hayden Biegel RT: Like Marz, Biegel will have a test on Saturday and it will serve as a good indicator of where he has progressed since the opener against Alabama. The rotation at right tackle has worked thus far but the Badgers should attempt to settle on a clear starter sooner rather than later. With Iowa ranking fourth in the Big Ten in rushing defense, Biegel will need to make sure he can get a good push to allow a gab for the Wisconsin running backs.

Drew Meyer Punter: Meyer had one of his better performances against Hawaii by averaging 46.5 yards on his four punts, including putting one inside the 5-yard line. That kind of performance will need to continue to prevent Iowa’s offense from having good field position, as the Hawkeyes are averaging 439.2 yards of total offense. Meyer has been consistent in pinning opposing offenses, as nine of his 20 punts have landed inside the 20-yard line.

Conor Sheehy NT: In order for the linebackers to try and slow Iowa’s offense down, Sheehy will play an important role in helping create attack lanes. Sheehy has averaged two tackles and a total of 1.5 sacks but Sheehy will need to increase his physicality to matchup up with Big Ten offensive lines.

Austin Traylor TE: The senior has proven to be a security blanket the last two games for Stave. Traylor’s hands have improved greatly since last season and has caught a touchdown over the last three games. With Erickson getting plenty of attention, Traylor should see plenty of passes come his way, especially in the red zone.


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